A Little Sunlight
Listen to Today's Edition
A new British documentary exposing the extent to which British colonial masters in Kenya tortured and raped local freedom fighters and then covered it up is making waves in the UK, and is the latest installment in a worldwide effort to seek a reckoning for past injustices by colonial powers.
The documentary, “A Very British Way of Torture,” released this month, features survivors’ testimonies, Kenyan and British historians and records hidden away for over 50 years: All these together offer a more complete picture of how colonial forces in the 1950s used systematic torture to repress Kenyans fighting for independence, the Guardian reported.
One document, buried for more than six decades, meanwhile, illuminates the extent to which the British forces tried to cover it up, knowing their actions were unacceptable.
From 1952 to 1960, Kenyan rebels took part in the Mau Mau Uprising, trying to shake off colonial rule. The British brutally suppressed the movement, with detention camps, torture, rape, forced castration, and other violence.
The Kenyan Human Rights Commission estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed in the crackdown and about 160,000 were detained, the BBC reported.
Afterward, most British governments tried to distance themselves from the violence against the rebels, the newspaper wrote.
During the rebellion, British Police Chief Arthur Young was dispatched to Kenya to investigate the alleged physical and sexual abuses Kenyans faced by colonial forces. He quickly discovered the instances of human rights violations by colonial officers, who were either covering them up or contributing to the violence.
He tried to appeal to the ministry of legal affairs and the attorney general in Kenya but they blocked his attempts to get the perpetrators brought to justice. He resigned in frustration, writing letters to officials, detailing and condemning British forces’ treatment of Kenyans. These missives were rewritten and toned down for the official files while the originals were buried in sealed archives used by British intelligence forces MI5 and MI6 for more than 60 years.
Historians say while many of the abuses were known; the British government settled compensation claims with Kenyans in 2013, but what’s new is the extent to which the British government and the colonial administration tried to cover them up.
“You often hear people say in Britain that it was acceptable by the standards of the time,” Niels Boender, a historian from the University of Warwick, told the Guardian, referring to torture and other abuse. “And I think documents like this really illustrate that, no, people at the time knew this was wrong as well.”